The poor reviews that The Order: 1886 got on release last week disappointed me.
Not disappointed because the game was therefore going to be bad, but disappointed in the gaming journalism industry. How anybody could objectively score this game 4/10, 3/10 and even in some cases 2/10 is absolutely beyond me. But rather than put me off playing, it actually made me want to play it all the more. It seems a lot of people have just jumped on the bandwagon of deciding The Order: 1886 is a bad game based on the reviews without even playing it: “the cool kids don’t like it so I won’t too”. Or something like that.
What I will say is take time to play this game yourself and make up your mind. You can’t possibly get a feel for a game by just watching someone else play it, or read their negative comments about it. This game has a lot to offer, and deserves to be played. If you don’t like it after making up your own mind about it, fine, but it deserves a chance.
Everyone expected great things from The Order. It’s been teased at us for almost two years, since first seeing a preview at E3 2013. It looked amazing. It was set to be the best-looking thing that we’ve ever seen on a console to date. And finally the game is upon us, and I for one was very excited to play it.
For me, it pretty much lived up to the expectations I held for it.
You play as Sir Galahad – aka Grayson – a highly regarded member of “The Order”, descendants of the Knights of the Round Table still existing in an alternative Victorian London. You’re living in the times of Jack the Ripper and attacks by “half-breed” werewolves all over the city, and it’s the Order’s job to keep London safe. Along with the help of inventor Nikola Tesla and his crazy steampunk weapons, you’re on a mission to fight the evil that’s endangering The Order and the whole of London.
Without a doubt, it really is the best looking game we’ve seen yet on this generation of consoles, graphically speaking. The change between cutscene and gameplay is silky smooth and there’s barely any drop in quality. The locations and backdrops look real. The character models are very detailed, and their expressions and facial features are spot-on. The game runs smooth as silk throughout, and the experience was never interrupted by loading screens.
The game is very linear; you can’t wander off anywhere the game doesn’t want you to go. In the age of open world games, it feels strange not to be able to explore, but that’s not a bad thing. The restriction of the locations is what lets the game look so bloody good. Why build the whole city if we’re only interested in a tiny bit of it? Yes, it would have been nice to be able to see more of this gorgeous rendering of Victorian London, but that’s what a sequel is for. It’s a fantastic illustration of the power of PlayStation 4, and this generation in general, and shows us that there’s a lot to look forward to as the generation grows.
The Order: 1886 is strongly story-driven. There’s probably as many cutscenes in the game than there is gameplay, but both run together seamlessly. There are quite a few quicktime events that bridge the gap between watching the FMVs and playing the game, but they never feel out of place or inconsequential. And they’re never stupidly hard to get right either *cough* Heavy Rain *cough*.
Personally I really enjoyed the story. The premise is fantastic – my only gripe is that the background could have been explored in a little more detail. The characters felt believable and real, thanks to great animations and solid voice acting, but we’d have maybe cared a little more about them had we seen a little more of them as characters; how they’d got to be part of ‘The Order’, per se. The pacing of the game was good, and the cutscenes didn’t get boring. I’ll openly admit that in some games, I’m the first person to push the “skip” button because I just don’t care about the FMVs. The fact that you can’t skip the videos in The Order didn’t matter at all; the game and the cutscenes are so tightly interwoven I wanted to watch them. They never got tiresome; it was never a case of “oh great, just what we need – another cutscene”. It is part of the experience – and what makes this instance any different from something like a critically-adored Telltale game is beyond me.
We both played the game simultaneously, and both of us completed it in something like 7.5 hours. No idea how on earth anyone could have completed it in five hours. Yes, 7.5 hours still isn’t the longest game in the world, but it feels like a complete package. It’s short enough that it leaves you gladly willing to want to play it again. It respects your time and doesn’t dither or pad out with pointless missions and inconsequential content, like so many games do. Game length and game quality are two completely separate ideals. The Last of Us is globally recognised as one of the best games ever made, yet its 15-20 hour run time means I’m unlikely to want to jump to play it again in a hurry. At about half of that, The Order: 1886 is something I can gladly soak up in the course of a couple of evenings.
The gameplay of The Order was surprisingly enjoyable. With the exception of a few exploration elements, the majority of the gameplay is combat-based – usually cover shooting. Not my typical game of choice, but after playing The Order I’m more inclined to give more third-person shooters a try. The controls were solid, and the shooting mechanics worked well.
We had a few gripes: on the human stealth sections, if you were spotted (and if you’d got yourself into a certain position, sometimes it was impossible not to be) you’d be killed instantly with no way of retaliating. A QTE wouldn’t have gone amiss here, especially as during fights with “half breeds”, you’d get an option to quickly push X to dodge their attacks, so it felt a little inconsistent. There were also times when in cover, Grayson would ‘stick’ behind objects, so to move around or jump to the next cover point you’d have to move out of cover to move back in again. These niggles were very minor though, and certainly didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the game.
The weapon system was adequate – Galahad would have two weapons equipped – usually a pistol and a rifle of some description – and you could swap either of these out for any weapon that a defeated enemy would drop. You could also deliver melee takedowns, either by stealthily sneaking up to an enemy and pushing a button when prompted, or not-so-stealthily rushing up to an enemy and pushing the same button. Perhaps a little more hand-to-hand combat would have been nice, but the good shooting elements made up for the lack of this. The most noticeable lack of hand-to-hand combat was in two “boss” fights, both with a half-breed. The majority of the fight is executed by quick time events and responding to timely button prompts. A little more involvement would have been nice, but for me it didn’t take anything away from the game. It still felt tense and exciting; it was probably just a little easier to win than it would have been in full blown combat.
Unlike some story-driven games, The Order: 1886 never felt slow. The battle sequences were actually very fast-paced and action-packed, and some of the exploration segments were rather tense and engaging – one scene in particular, as you made your way through a creepy abandoned hospital in pursuit of a half-breed, had tones of an old-school survival horror.
Overall, The Order: 1886 is a thoroughly enjoyable game. The visuals of the game really are stunning and I was kept in awe of how it looked from start to finish. The story is engaging and well-executed, thanks to good pacing, solid voice acting and great action scenes. The gameplay is excellent, with a good variation of combat, QTEs and exploration. There’s a few minor niggles, but nothing that would put us off playing or make it any less enjoyable.
Considering that this is Ready at Dawn’s first major release, it’s a mightily impressive feat, and it’s one that has left us very excited to see what they are going to come up with next.